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Managing Performance During Covid-19

A metaphor for managing in the digital age
Brian Shaw
Going hard, going early and taking people with you is as critical in recovery as it is in the survival phase

COVID-19 is currently causing a health crisis of global proportion that the world is struggling to bring under control, with varying degrees of success in different countries.  As this battle for human survival rages it has becoming increasingly clear that the next, and potentially longer term issue, is the impact it will have on world economies, social structures and the way business gets done across the world. 

The two crises are inter-related: the longer the virus takes to bring under control the greater the damage to economies, governments and businesses at every level.  And the greater the damage the more complex the recovery challenges will be. 

The speed and quality of response has been shown to be the critical factor in    gaining control

Going hard, going early and engaging people to get on board through good      communication is the key to success.  It shortens the duration and the severity of the human impact first (which is as it should be), which in turn reduces the severity of the economic impact and the time it takes to re-establish growth. Being slow to mobilise dramatically increases the human and economic impact

Being slow to mobilise dramatically increases the human and economic impact

Losing time at the start through being slow to recognise the problem or being indecisive about what to do has been the most critical factor in allowing the problem to spiral out of control.  This has then been compounded by two further leadership shortcomings:

  • failing to make people understand clearly what they must do and why
  • not moving fast enough to identify the sources of the problem and their contacts has allowed the problem to accelerate exponentially 

This is a stark metaphor for business leaders charged with managing in such volatile times

In this blog we look at the immediate actions that successful organisations are taking to adapt their businesses as the crisis unfolds.  

Managing the response:  the first four steps

Moving swiftly and decisively to provide a clear direction comes first, followed by the creation of a structure to design and deliver the response.  Creating a team of teams to assess the scale of the problem, evaluate alternative scenarios, make rapid decisions and implement them follows, in parallel with clear and compelling communication to energise the recovery.  Here are the four key initial steps:

Provide technology tools to enable remote team-work

  • video conferencing (eg Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams)
  • home/work access to networks
  • online collaboration tools (eg Office 364, Slack, Asana, Podio, Ryver, Trello, Flock)
  • online performance goal setting and performance conversations for individuals that team members can contribute to are an absolute requirement to support remote working where many short term goals must be delivered quickly

    Design an effective, agile structure for remote working
  • Uncertainty and rapidly changing conditions mean that traditional hierarchical structures are less effective in crisis situations. In many instances a broad organisational view is simply not accessible and decisions need to be made quickly with less than ideal information available
  • Smaller, cross-functional teams connected together as a network of teams and co-ordinated at the top  provide greater agility and utilise a broader range of talent from across the organisation  
  • Decision making is faster and hard-wired to implementation
  • Establish high value deliverables and key workstreams for each team and team member
  • Roles should be agreed among team members and each team should establish clear goals, decision making processes, implementation and reporting responsibilities
  • Leaders should foster collaboration and transparency across the network of teams by
     distributing authority and sharing information
  • During the uncertainty decisions should be "gut checked" against the values of the leader and the organization
         Create a clear plan of action and communicate progress daily
  • The challenge for managers is to lead, inspire and direct their teams remotely. The first action must be to create a project plan and clearly define the tasks ahead for each team. 
  • Use tools such as Wrike interactive Gantt charts to connect the workstreams
  • Use an online goal setting, collaboration and tracking tool to ensure people are on board and that required outcomes are clearly understood and committed to
  • Establish macro goal headings for each critical area.  These could be:
    • Employee Support and Protection
      • Identify industry status and the impact of level 4 lock down on who can continue to come to work and who must remain at home
      • Access all available government support packages
      • Set employee policies for wage, salary, leave, sick leave, leave without pay and redundancy policies
      • Set policy for employees who become symptomatic
    • Supply chain stabilisation and rebuilding
      • Conduct continuous supply chain scenario-based risk assessment and operation impact
      • Develop potential alternative suppliers and assess the impact on costs
      • Prepare for shortages and transportation delays
      • explore bridging strategies, including supply rationing, prebooking logistics capacity (shipping, rail, and airfreight), using after-sales stock, and gaining higher-priority status from suppliers.
    • Customer supportand re-engagement
      • Contact and assess stock levels and forecast demand by product line/ SKU
      • Assess the effect of the lockdown on customers' business in the mid and longer term and the likely effect on demand
      • Build relationships by bringing your strengths to bear and offering whatever assistance is possible
    • Financial and immediate liquidity
      • Check and forecast the financial position weekly by modelling cash flow, profit and loss, and balance sheet against scenarios
      • Identify triggers that might significantly impair liquidity. For each trigger in each scenario, companies should define moves to stabilize the organization.
      • Prioritise actions
      • Move early to establish re-financing and borrowing options
      • Connect the financial modelling to the overall recovery plan
      • Choose some macro goal areas that fit across your organisation that all teams can use as an overarching structure to establish their goals within.  Typical macro headings could include

Communicate daily to the whole organisation on progress towards goals 

  • Create a burning platform sense of urgency and a culture that paints a clear picture of the way people will be supported as they work collaboratively to get the organisation back on track.
  • Take people into your confidence.  Make communication engaging and compelling by explaining the reasoning behind decisions.  Describe options that have been considered, and the reasons why particular courses of action have or have not been chosen.
  • Spell out the empowerment of teams. Explain what each team has been tasked with doing, the authority they have to do it and the results they are required to achieve.
  • Hold teams accountable for getting things done.  Show how their results fit together to deliver the overall goals of recovery and growth.
  •  
“What leaders need during a crisis is not a predefined response plan but behaviours and mindsets that will prevent them from overreacting to yesterday’s developments and help them look ahead”.
Leadership in a crisis: Responding to the coronavirus outbreak and future challenges
McKinsey article, March 2020

Mariner7 Limited - 2 April, 2020

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